Daily Bird nesting season special: Scarlet Tanager
by Andy Rzeznikiewicz, Connecticut Audubon sanctuary manager. Videos by Gilles Carter, Connecticut Audubon Board of Directors.
About the size of a catbird or cardinal, the male Scarlet Tanager is a brilliant, almost neon red with black wings. On occasion some males are orange instead of red; they are referred to as the Orange Variant Scarlet Tanager (one has nested in the past at the Bafflin preserve in Pomfret).
From mid to late August through the winter, the males lose their scarlet feathers and molt into a greenish yellow. The females are yellowish with brownish wings.
At this time of year they can be found by listening for their song call. Roger Tory Peterson described it as “suggesting a robin with a sore throat.” The “chik-burr” call note is also distinctive. They respond to “pishing” and seem to be curious about the sound. This will help you spot the bird in the dense forest canopy.
If you know of a mulberry tree, sit by it and watch all the activity as birds feed on the berries; Scarlet Tanagers are frequent visitors to those trees.
The Connecticut Audubon Society’s Chaney preserve in Montville, and Croft preserve in Goshen, have many nesting pairs. The Chaney preserve has a large trail system for easy access to the interior forest (Croft does not).
In fall, tanagers join mixed flocks and can be found in shrubland habitat, feeding in various berry bushes.